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Book Nook - 24-12-2018

Monday, December 24, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

The Travelling Heart
Arthur Less, the protagonist of Andrew Sean Greer’s bestselling novel, Less, that won the Pulitzer Prize and many others, may be a middling writer, but is admirably aware of his shortcomings. When his latest novel is turned down by his publisher, he is disappointed and wonders what he did wrong.  Is his writing too poignant, as his agent alleged, or not gay enough, as another successful writer points out.

Later in the novel, he tells a female travelling companion, “It was about a middle-aged gay man walking around San Francisco. And, you know, his … his sorrows … ” The woman says, “A white middle-aged American man walking around with his white middle-aged American sorrows? It’s a little hard to feel sorry for a guy like that.”

Arthur Less is a gay white middle-aged American man, who seems to dare anyone to feel sorry for him. No matter what travails he goes through, he comes out unscathed somehow, and endears himself even more to the reader. When his younger boyfriend, Freddy, plans to get married to another man, Arthur cannot bear to attend the wedding and feel people’s pitying gaze on him, so he accepts all kinds of junkets offered to writers and embarks on a series of trips out of the country, just to have a valid excuse not to be present and endure the pity of other guests. He also does not want to be alone on his fiftieth birthday that is coming up soon.

Less is described as “an author too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered, one who never sits next to anyone on a plane who has heard of his books,” but even he has one bestseller to his name, that makes him eligible for speaking and teaching assignments, seminars and awards-- “the crazy quilt of a writer’s life: warm enough, though it never quite covers the toes.”

Greer’s gentle satire makes fun of the literary world and the quirks of authors, while his protagonist is refreshingly free of the slightest nasty streak. The places he visits, the people he meets and the adventures he has make up the very enjoyable novel.

Fortunately or unfortunately for Less, the biggest achievement of his life has been his past relationship with a great poet, Robert Brownburn, and through him, a peripheral involvement with the Russian River School, that is suddenly going through a resurgence.

Mexico, Berlin, Paris, Morocco, Japan and even India figure on Less’s itinerary. In India he is booked into what he believes is a seaside writer’s retreat, but turns out to be Catholic mission in Thiruvananthapuram. While he hopes to rework his novel in peace, he is thrust into the noise (three places of worship blare through the day) and endless bustle of the town.

What could have been a tragedy about mediocrity and heartbreak, turns out to be a comedy about a man who bumbles through life with such charming innocence that a rival actually envies him for having “the best life of anyone I know.”

Less:
By Andrew Sean Greer
Publisher:  Lee Boudreaux Book/Little, Brown
Pages: 263

 

Excerpt of  Less:
From where I sit, the story of Arthur Less is not so bad.

Look at him: seated primly on the hotel lobby's plush round sofa, blue suit and white shirt, legs knee-crossed so that one polished loafer hangs free of its heel. The pose of a young man. His slim shadow is, in fact, still that of his younger self, but at nearly fifty he is like those bronze statues in public parks that, despite one lucky knee rubbed raw by schoolchildren, discolor beautifully until they match the trees. So has Arthur Less, once pink and gold with youth, faded like the sofa he sits on, tapping one finger on his knee and staring at the grandfather clock. The long patrician nose perennially burned by the sun (even in cloudy New York October). The washed-out blond hair too long on the top, too short on the sides—portrait of his grandfather. Those same watery blue eyes. Listen: you might hear anxiety ticking, ticking, ticking away as he stares at that clock, which unfortunately is not ticking itself. It stopped fifteen years ago. Arthur Less is not aware of this; he still believes, at his ripe age, that escorts for literary events arrive on time and bellboys reliably wind the lobby clocks. He wears no watch; his faith is fast. It is mere coincidence that the clock stopped at half past six, almost exactly the hour when he is to be taken to tonight's event. The poor man does not know it, but the time is already quarter to seven. As he waits, around and around the room circles a young woman in a brown wool dress, a species of tweed hummingbird, pollinating first this group of tourists and then that one. She dips her face into a cluster of chairs, asking a particular question, and then, dissatisfied with the answer, darts away to find another. Less does not notice her as she makes her rounds. He is too focused on the broken clock. The young woman goes up to the lobby clerk, then to the elevator, startling a group of ladies overdressed for the theater. Up and down Less's loose shoe goes. If he paid attention, perhaps he would have heard the woman's eager question, which explains why, though she asks everyone else in the lobby, she never asks it of him: "Excuse me, but are you Miss Arthur?"

The problem—which will not be solved in this lobby—is that the escort believes Arthur Less to be a woman.

In her defense, she has read only one novel of his, in an electronic form that lacked a photo, and found the female narrator so compelling, so persuasive, that she was certain only a woman could have written it; she assumed the name to be one of those American gender curiosities (she is Japanese). This is, for Arthur Less, a rare rave review. Little good this does him at the moment, sitting on the round sofa, from whose conical center emerges an oiled palm. For it is now ten minutes to seven.

Arthur Less has been here for three days; he is in New York to interview famous science fiction author H. H. H. Mandern onstage to celebrate the launch of H. H. H. Mandern's new novel; in it, he revives his wildly popular Holmesian robot, Peabody. In the world of books, this is front-page news, and a great deal of money is jangling behind the scenes. Money in the voice that called Less out of the blue and asked if he was familiar with the work of H. H. H. Mandern, and if he might be available for an interview. Money in the messages from the publicist instructing Less what questions were absolutely off the table for H. H. H. Mandern (his wife, his daughter, his poorly reviewed poetry collection). Money in the choice of venue, the advertisements plastered all over the Village. Money in the inflatable Peabody battling the wind outside the theater. Money even in the hotel Arthur has been take anytime, day or night, you're welcome. In a world where most people read one book a year, there is a lot of money hoping that this is the book and that this night will be the glorious kickoff. And they are depending on Arthur Less.

 

SHORT TAKES
According to the synopsis of Sanjay Pinto’s My NDTV Days:  Anecdotes From The Life Of A Journalist, “The life of a television journalist can often be described as full of thrills and the rush of providing ‘breaking news’ can be inimitable. Throwing a contentious question to then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on his visit to Chennai, escorting an NDTV colleague who had just survived an LTTE attack in Colombo, out of the Chennai Airport, edgy encounters with Boris Becker or humorous ones with Rahul Dravid or Vishwananthan Anand, My NDTV Days presents engaging details of the art of chasing news. At the core of Sanjay Pinto’s remarkable recounting of these interesting incidents, the life of a 24X7 journalist comes to the fore with all the unpredictable aspects of the profession.” A must read for media aspirants.

My NDTV Days:  Anecdotes From The Life Of A Journalist
By Sanjay Pinto
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
Pages: 238


 
A.R. Venkatachalapathy’s Tamil Characters: Personalities, Politics, Culture is a readable book about noteworthy people and events from the state, with illustrations by Sri Lankan artist, Mohamed Rashmy Ahamed. According to the summary, “Tamilnadu’s politics and culture befuddle outside observers. Ruled for half a century by two regional parties – DMK and AIADMK – its politics has been marked by language pride, non-Brahmin movement, caste-based reservation, regionalism, welfare populism and cinema. Despite the negative coverage it tends to get from outside, Tamilnadu is a developed state scoring high on all human development indicators.  In Tamil Characters, noted historian A. R. Venkatachalapathy provides a ringside view of contemporary Tamilnadu beginning with an assessment of political figures such as Periyar and Anna, Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa and significant poets, writers and thinkers including Subramania Bharati and Iyotheethos Pandithar. The final section discusses contentious issues such as language politics, prohibition, jallikattu and Dalit rights.”

Tamil Characters: Personalities, Politics, Culture
By A.R. Venkatachalapathy
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
Pages: 320


 
Winning Like Yuvraj, Think & Succeed Like Singh by Alpesh Patel Is an inspiring book about the cricketer. Says the summary, “There are many achievers and great sportspersons whose lives have inspired millions, but India’s star cricketer Yuvraj Singh is special among them. How many sportspersons have achieved so much despite facing mountainous challenges? Yuvraj grew up in a broken family, suffered from critical illness twice, had frequent injuries, break-ups, and worst of all–-was diagnosed with cancer at the peak of his career in 2011. Anyone else would have buckled under the onslaught of afflictions, but not Yuvi. He emerged a winner each time and his list of achievements speaks for itself. His impressive record in cricket and his personal achievements are truly inspirational even to accomplished individuals.
“So what makes Yuvi this special? What can one learn from his life, struggle and his success? Winning Like Yuvraj offers insight into the qualities of Yuvi’s life that make him a winner amidst adversities. It offers a peek into Yuvi’s personal and professional life to learn important lessons for achieving momentous success the way he did. The book promises not only to inspire, but also show the readers how to nurture winning qualities the way Yuvraj did. Readers of all ages, but more importantly the youth who are studying or in the earlier phases of their careers, will find this book very useful towards achieving higher goals in their lives.”

Winning Like Yuvraj, Think & Succeed Like Singh
By Alpesh Patel
Publisher: Rupa
Pages: 141

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